We all naturally go through cycles of death and rebirth in our lives. For many of us, this is a gradual process, where we become anew– we get a new job, enter into a new relationship, or move without much thought about how these events change us.
We tend to think of ourselves as having a rather fixed identity, and so the idea that we are always dying and being reborn, in small or large ways, is sort of lost on us.
Put more simply, it is hard to keep track of ourselves. It is hard to see ourselves clearly. And it is only through hindsight that we achieve that clarity typically, if we are so inclined to sit with what we have been through.
The natural cycles of our lives are of expansion and contraction, of death and rebirth.
In our expansion cycle, we tend to want to experience. We want to learn new things, grow, more fully inhabit our days and our lives. Energetically this also corresponds with the Chinese Medicine cycles of Spring moving into Summer seasons. This is a time that we go outside, enjoy nature, frolic, and so forth.
In our contraction cycle, we tend to want to consolidate. To take what we have experienced from our expansion and sift through it. To see what really fits, what should integrate with our concept of our individual identity, and to sort of leave the rest. It is a time for reflection, quiet, and solitude. It is easy to see that this period will correspond to the winter season.
These cycles really show how we are constantly dying and being reborn. We do this in large and rather obvious ways sometimes. But in other ways we do this daily many times without any sort of awareness. That decision to read vs. watch tv (none of these is “right” as some tv might be exactly the right choice for you), that decision to send in the job application (expansion) vs. stating to ourselves that we are horrible and we will never get it anyway (contraction).
To carry this further we can see how some of our natures tend towards contraction or expansion. Consider the young man who has 5,000 friends on Facebook and jumps off cliffs on the weekends and always has a genuine smile on his face vs. the young man who has a few close friends and decides to spend his Saturday afternoon in a library. We can obviously extend this to introvert vs. extrovert, but we can also look beyond those labels and really see the essence of the person.
To complicate things further, we may be in a period of expansion for decades. The spiritual “seeker” who will look towards thousands of resources is one. Someone who is constantly educating themselves is another. It is natural in our youth to be in this expansion phase, and in this phase it is easy to see ourselves achieving and becoming more of who we are.
In the contraction phase we have taken all of that education and seeking and start to know who we are. It is a period of focus. This tends to a period later in life. I believe it was Rudolf Steiner who said something about people really starting to learn at age 42 (I may be incorrect about that attribution) , but obviously that may happen earlier or later in our lives, just depending on our individual circumstances.
Obviously things can get more complex than this. We like to think of ourselves as one thing, either contracting or expanding… but the truth is that parts of ourselves may be expanding while others contract. We may need some parts of ourselves to expand while others take a sort of back seat for a bit. But I am talking about the general tendency of our being… and what cycle we may be in as a whole (basically, how many parts of us are contracting vs. expanding, and who “wins”)
This is linked to the concept of death and rebirth. We expand until we hit some sort of subconscious or energetic boundary, and then we retract again. We are being reborn, learning, expanding… and then we hit the wall (for whatever reason) and retract into a sort of “death” cycle.
This can happen for a few reasons. The most common reason we hit that wall and begin to retract is that we hear or see something that we are not ready for yet. This can be a bit of knowledge, a change in our world, etc. Our identity likes to think of itself as fairly fixed, and when we experience change, or the possibility of change, we equate it with death.
Because it is death. It is death of the known (to us, at least). And so we must energetically consolidate, or retract, in order to integrate the experience and reformulate our identity.
We may also refuse to change. This is completely common (and mostly unfortunate). We form fixed ideas about who we are, and who the world is, and if we run across anything that would change that, we have the tendency to shut it down. We do not reformulate our identity, or sort of energetically gather to reformulate our reality based on what we have learned… but we shut down so we don’t have to reformulate, so we don’t have to “die”.
It is also completely natural to go through this cycle of death and rebirth in minor and major ways. The seasons and times of year, as illustrated above, do it quite naturally for us. The moon cycle does this naturally, whether we are aware of it or not. There is not a cycle that is more important than the other (expansion/birth; contraction/death) and both are needed for us to live, to experience, and to make our journey forward.
But we can very much stall the process. We can resist.
We do this all the time. We come across some piece of knowledge, some understanding, some truth, and we get scared. It is natural, as our minds perceive that as “death”, and so we retract, much like a turtle retracting in its shell.
We then get stuck. We get fixated on whatever knowledge or experience that we came across that we are afraid of. We repeat it to ourselves, it shows itself to us, we see and sense and experience it in often fairly obvious ways (if we are paying attention, of course). Our minds, funny enough, will frighten us by telling us that whatever we have come across is frightening, or that it is some final “truth” or threshold that we must cross.
The truth is that it simply is a bit of knowledge that you may not know, and that by accepting it or even acknowledging it, you would move into the rebirth cycle, with this new information as a part of you.
But we stop ourselves from becoming reborn. This is the first way we “pause”.
We hit that wall of whatever information or change is coming our way, we fear it, and then we retract. We stay in this sort of Void, this place of pause, because we are intended to experience and realize the information or change that has come through. And the fact that we have not allowed it in, that we have not allowed ourselves to naturally retract and our former selves to “die” means that we are stuck.
Sometimes we can get stuck in between death and rebirth, or rebirth and death, for long periods of time.
We will realize that we are stuck, we will realize that we are afraid. We will realize that there is something that we are supposed to do, some part of our lives or ourselves or what we consider the world to be was supposed to change… but we are holding on to our former selves, our former ideas about ourselves and the world, not allowing them to fully die.
As an aside, this is what makes spiritual awakenings so difficult. Especially full kundalini awakenings, in which we may “die” quite quickly and fairly violently there is often a fight, a struggle between the part of ourselves that fears anything other than the known, and the new that is quickly emerging. In my process I have had totally new insights about myself or the nature of the world/cosmos/universe/etc. within a minute or so. My ideas have entirely changed within that minute. That sort of “death” is quite drastic, and hard to process… and hard to surrender to.
If I had one piece of advice to give to anyone going through a brutal, briskly paced awakening, it is that surrendering to this cycle is much better than getting stuck. Being reborn, even with new ideas and even with a new physical structure or whatever is happening, is much less painful than remaining stuck in the pause.
The other thing to realize about this pause is that it is entirely natural.
Our cycles of death and rebirth naturally have a pausing factor, a consolidating time. We need time to integrate our experiences from expansion. From what we have learned.
We need time to rewire. Any sort of spiritual change results in physical, emotional, and mental (belief system) changes.
This change does not happen instantaneously, even if, as in the example of myself above (and the belief system changing within an instant), some aspect of ourselves has changed. What I mean by this is that we may have an event happen that colors our world. It changes what we knew to be true about ourselves, or the world (whether in a good or more difficult way).
This experience does not change everything– mind, body, spirit– all at once. There are ripples, waves of realizing that information to be true, of incorporating that information inward. We then incorporate it into our conscious identity. We then energetically reformulate our individual energy system, patterns, and how we relate to ourselves and the world.
This takes time.
This period of “pause” allows for the “death” cycle to fully complete… for the things that need to complete in this cycle to do so. It also allows for this reformulation time, so we can go into our new period of “rebirth” and expansion as clearly as we are able to.
The difficulty of this pause time is that it is easy to get frustrated with it. I certainly do. As someone who is self-employed there is always something for me to do, and the idea that I am intended to be in a period of rewiring, or reformulation (this pause) is difficult for me.
But learning patience, learning about this pause, and breathing through it, is a lesson unto itself.
The recognition that we can sit with this pause and feel stillness… to let go of the ideas that are constantly circulating about doing more or being more, and allowing for new energies to emerge naturally, as they do when it is time for that “rebirth” is difficult.
To make it even more difficult, for those of us who are sensitive and used to a lot of spiritual “stuff” happening around us, our abilities or senses may be dulled during this period.
To make things even more difficult, this period tends to be of a longer duration when we go through a bigger “letting go” process. Basically, if we have worked through a lot of stuff in our last contraction cycle, or have learned a lot in our last expansion cycle, we need longer (typically) to integrate, a lengthier pause to happen.
A pause really can be just a moment if we have not had much go on in our lives, or if we are not conscious enough to reflect on the natural cycles of our being. If we refuse to learn, or refuse to change in any way, and have fixed ideas about ourselves and the world that we refuse to change, we will naturally get angry at or refuse to acknowledge anything to the contrary that we may come across. So we won’t need much of a pause to integrate anything, because we haven’t done much work or had really much growth.
If we do grow, we will need that pause. That stillness. And to learn to acknowledge this need, this rewiring and reintegration time, and to honor it, is difficult. Or it is for me, at least. But learning to respect this cycle, to understand where you are at and to act accordingly, will not only allow you to stop forcing yourself to do things that are not a natural part of that cycle (yes, you will still need to go grocery shopping and such, no matter what cycle you are in, though) is part of really entering that flow state, or feeling more free in our daily lives.
Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual worker, teacher, and author of several books offering a comprehensive and pragmatic approach to dealing with spiritual awakening. You can learn more about this in her book, The Spiritual Awakening Guide: Kundalini, Psychic Abilities, and the Conditioned Layers of Reality.